Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Country Mouse and City Mouse

I am still applying for full-time teaching jobs with no luck; I've even contemplated getting my old job back at Expensive Clothing Store, where I would get paid slightly more than the minimum wage to say, "Thank you! Come again!" when I really want to say, "I bet when you sold your soul, Satan flinched and offered a refund."

One of the benefits to being single is that I can apply for jobs pretty much anywhere, since I don't have to worry about how a move to a different city or state would affect my spouse or kids. I'd like to stay in Chicago, but I'd also like to wake up looking like Sofia Vergara tomorrow. Unfortunately, the chances of either situation happening are highly unlikely. The former is especially difficult to achieve, due to the draconian budget cuts that the governor is implementing, which have severely and negatively affected the schools in Illinois.

I've applied for jobs all over the country, everywhere from New York City to tiny towns in West Virginia with only a thousand local residents. I'd prefer to live in a big city, rather than a small town that is similar to the small town that I spent eighteen years wanting to escape from. But most colleges are in smaller or medium-sized towns.

Small town life isn't all bad. I do miss the peace and quiet, and how, when I was a child, I used to lie on the grass next to my dog and hear nothing but birds chirping and my dog barking at passers-by. In the city, I lie on my bed and hear sirens blaring, horns honking, and my neighbors yelling, "Chug! Chug! Chug!" as they gulp down their umpteenth beer.

I don't miss the fact that in a small town, everyone not only knew each other, they knew everyone else's business. So if you made any big or small decision in that town, everyone would know within days (or hours), and they'd be sure to throw in their two cents. I like the anonymity of Chicago, where I can walk down the street and not run into an old acquaintance who wants to rehash one of the many times I publicly embarrassed myself at school.

I miss the sight of farmland and wide open spaces, unlike Chicago, where everyone is always bumping into each other or pushing each other to make space for themselves. I remember crossing the street in my hometown and waving to drivers I recognized, whereas in Chicago drivers are much more likely to honk and scream at me for not moving fast enough. I respond by screaming, "I'll move faster...in HELL!"

I don't miss the fact that in my hometown, it seemed like everyone was expected to be the same. If you were even a little bit different, you were a freak, and everyone treated you like a freak. And that was my life for eighteen years, because I was different. I'm not saying that all small towns are like that, because they're not; I'm sure that other towns are more accepting. But one thing I like about Chicago is that there are a lot of people who are much "freakier" than I am, and here, they're viewed as "cool". I don't have to hide who I am here, and I've always felt more comfortable here than I ever did in my hometown.

It makes me sad when I think about leaving Chicago and all the things I'll miss (which is another post in itself). But I always knew that my time here came with an expiration date. The thing about the academic job market is that you can't afford to be choosy. You have to go where the work is. So if I end up in a town even smaller than the one I grew up in, so be it, as long as I get to teach at a good school. But as my rejection letters pile up, I am starting to lose hope that I'll find anything.

Also, I really don't want to go back to working in retail, because I think that a few days at my old store just might end with several customers running out of the store, shrieking, while I chase after them with a mannequin.

What about you? Do you prefer city life or life in a small town?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Politically Incorrect

Recently, an African American professor named Saida Grundy was hired to teach at Boston University. She got in trouble for writing the following things on Twitter about white people: "Why is white America so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?”

 “Every [Martin Luther King Jr.] week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. And every year [I] find it nearly impossible.”

 “...in other words, deal with your white sh*t [sic], white people. Slavery is a *YALL* thing.”

On Twitter several people wrote #IStandwithSaida in support of her "message," claiming that she wasn't being racist; she was only "stating the truth."

I for one do NOT stand with Saida. I think what she said was incredibly racist. She's also misinformed, because even Africans owned slaves, though admittedly they did not all treat them in the same way that American slave owners treated their slaves.

Boston University criticized her comments, but they did not fire or discipline her in any way. Saida Grundy later "apologized" for her statements, though it sounded less like an apology and more like an attempt to rationalize her vitriol. This bothered me, especially because I know that if I said those things, they wouldn't even consider hiring me for a full-time lecturer position.

Later, a white male professor at Duke got in trouble for saying the following things: 

He said that Asians “didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard” after experiencing discrimination in this country.

He also said, “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white."

Do I agree with what Professor Jerry Hough said? NO. But what bothers me is that the people who were so quick to defend Saida Grundy are now attacking Jerry Hough and calling for him to be fired.

Both professors made generalizations about race, implying/assuming that their statements applied to ALL the people from those groups. They're both wrong. I also think that the same people who were upholding the importance of freedom of speech in their defense of Saida Grundy are hypocrites for attacking Jerry Hough for exercising his right to freedom of speech.

The primary reason I never revealed my name or my face on this blog is because I don't want to get in trouble for what I write. I don't think I've ever written anything that controversial or offensive on this blog, but we are living in an era where everyone is hyper-alert about what's "politically correct" and what's not, and people get offended by almost everything. Teachers cannot even discipline their students anymore without getting verbally attacked by the students' parents or fired by their employers.

As a teacher, I have been falsely accused of racism. A student sent me several nasty e-mails, accusing me of racism, because I only included one book by an African American author on the syllabus for the literature class he was enrolled in. He tried to get me fired by badmouthing me all over the department, though the other professors took my side. I didn't include more African American authors because I also included books by other minorities; there wasn't time to include more. But that student was convinced I was a racist, and he said he felt "victimized" as a result. I refused to back down to him.

Another student informed me that I was racist for including one of Mark Twain's books on my curriculum, due to his use of the n-word. I don't condone the use of that word, but I think there is a lot more to his work than that. Not to mention that student failed to notice or understand Twain's critiques of racism and discrimination in his books. I refused to back down to that student, too.

I understand that it's important to be careful about what I say, especially because I am a teacher. Teachers are held to a different standard, and we can't say or do whatever we want without worrying about how it will affect our reputations or even our jobs.

It bothers me that some people have become so hyper-sensitive about what's politically correct and what's not that they will bully me, scream at me, threaten me, or try to get me fired if I say or do one thing that they don't like. I am NOT and have never been a racist. I do not have a problem with people from other races. I have a problem with people using race as an excuse to attack others.

What about you? What do you think about political correctness? Have you ever been falsely accused of being politically incorrect?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Beyond My Control

Every few weeks, I meet with my doctors to continue my medical treatment for my neurological disorder. I have to meet with more than one doctor, due to the fact that I am suffering from various symptoms. Every time I go, I feel scared.

Whenever I visit the clinics and the hospital, I feel very small. I see blind people wearing sunglasses and walking with canes, and I see others being led by Seeing Eye dogs. There are patients being pushed in wheelchairs, which always gives me a flashback to the night I spent in the emergency room, and orderlies pushed me around the hospital in a wheelchair to get me from one unit to the next. At the hospital, I catch glimpses of people lying in bed, hooked up to machines.

I feel sorry for them, and I wish that I could heal all of them. However, a small, selfish part of me hates seeing them, because I can't help thinking, Am I going to end up like them? Is that my future? 

Since September, I have been to more doctors and undergone more medical procedures than I can count. At first, I got worse, and the neurologist who was treating me increased my medication. She told me that if the medication didn't work, I would have to get brain surgery. If that didn't help, I would go permanently blind.

I've always hated that medication. It made me feel tired all the time, and I lost weight because I barely had the energy to finish a sandwich. It also made me sick on a regular basis. I hated that I was dependent on that medication and on my doctors. One of the things about being a Type A personality is that I am a control freak. The fact that my health is beyond my control frightens me.

When I go in for my treatment, I try to focus on getting better. I try not to think about how my life (and my work) will change completely if I get even worse. The problem with a neurological disorder is that if something goes really wrong, that's it. It's not like I can get a brain transplant.

I try not to think about going blind, but I can't help that either. If I went blind, I wouldn't be able to see Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline, or Grant Park anymore. I wouldn't be able to just go into a bookstore and browse, unless they had books available in Braille. I wouldn't even be able to see the words on my computer or in my journal, which would change my writing process.

I also try not to think about the anger I still feel at my parents for blaming me for getting sick, even though my doctors said they were wrong. I say nothing to my parents about the fact that they haven't asked about my health in months.

I do think about how grateful I am to all of you, for leaving positive, encouraging comments on my blog when I wrote about my diagnosis. I am grateful to those of you who sent me nice e-mails to let me know that you supported me. When I went to the emergency room the first time, I felt so alone, lost, and scared. Reading what you all wrote made me feel better, and it helped me cope with the anger I felt at all the people in my life who weren't there for me.

My doctors say that I am finally getting better, though I still have to stay on the medication (a reduced dosage, at least) and come in for regular medical treatment. They say that what I have is chronic and can't be cured; it could always come back, and then I really might go blind the next time. That's why it's imperative that I find a full-time job with good health insurance that would cover more medical treatment.

I don't know what's going to happen in the future. I hope that I will continue to get better. Thank you to all of you who have been so kind to me. I really appreciate it.

What about you? Have you ever felt like something was beyond your control? How did you deal with it?

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Uncertain Future

This year I have applied for full-time teaching jobs at eighty schools all over the country. So far, I have been rejected by thirty of them.

It's discouraging, to say the least, to open my mail and find yet another rejection letter. It also makes me scared about what's going to happen in the future. I have just enough money to pay my basic expenses through August. But what will I do after that?

I started working when I was sixteen, as a cashier in a grocery store in the small Midwestern town I grew up in, where I routinely had to tell customers to put shirts on so they wouldn't be made to leave the store (and I tried not to stare at their farmer tans as I told them). I've had a variety of jobs, everything from stuffing envelopes, to resisting the urge to strangle rude customers with the clothes I was trying to sell them, to breaking up fights among troubled high school students, to resisting the urge to fling undergraduates' cell phones out the window.

I've never been unemployed, though I have been underemployed, underpaid, and overworked. When I couldn't find a full-time teaching job after I got a master's degree, I started working as a part-time adjunct instructor at various schools. Adjunct work is difficult because the pay is low; there is no health insurance or benefits; you're hired on an as-needed basis, so you could have a full course load one term and no classes the next. That's why I also worked in retail, and I took on a part-time job for a website.

Despite the fact that I'm a workaholic, I never liked working multiple jobs. I was tired all the time. I was screamed at and disrespected by some of my students, my customers, and my supervisors. I accepted it because I had few other options, though I often cried privately when it got to be too much. The harder I worked, the more my personality hardened: I went from being cheerful, friendly, and optimistic to stressed, antisocial, and cynical.

Now I'm close to finishing my dissertation, and I'll be defending it in about a month. If it doesn't get approved, you'll hear me screeching like a howler monkey from thousands of miles away. If it does get approved, I'll finally have my PhD. But the question is, what happens next?

I've applied to large research universities, small four-year colleges, and community colleges. I've applied to posh boarding schools, because they occasionally hire PhDs. I've even applied for tutoring jobs at university writing centers, even though they pay tens of thousands dollars less than teaching jobs do. But with the exception of one school, who was interested in hiring me until they found someone with more impressive credentials, I have no other job leads.

It bothers me that even though I am a good teacher with hundreds of positive evaluations from my students, someone with a longer list of academic publications and awards is much more likely to get the job. What most of these search committees are looking for is someone who has excelled as a scholar, while his or her teaching record is much less important. I think it should be the other way around, but I'm in the minority on that issue.

The chair of the English department at my school told the PhD candidates that it was normal not to find a tenure-track position within the first year and that the search could take at least two more years. Even after that, we still might not find one. But in the meantime, I still have bills to pay, and I can't even get a job as an untenured, full-time lecturer at a community college in the Middle of Nowhere, USA.

It's depressing and scary to think that I could be rejected by fifty more schools. After I get my PhD, it'll (hopefully) be easier to find a job. But in the meantime, I may have to go back to work in retail (if I do, you'll hear me screeching like a howler monkey from thousands of miles away), continue working as an adjunct, and increase the hours at my website job.

Even if I worked three jobs again, I wouldn't necessarily have enough money to live on. As an experienced salesgirl, I would get paid more. But I would get fewer hours, because it's cheaper for the employers to give hours to the ones with less experience. Adjuncts make little more (or in some cases, less) than retail workers. For example, I was once offered a teaching job that would have paid less than a hundred dollars a week (before taxes). I could get health insurance as a salesgirl (but not as an adjunct instructor), but it's very basic insurance, which wouldn't cover the specialized treatment I need for my neurological disorder.

But I will do what I have to do. I will NOT ask my parents for money, for reasons that are better left unwritten. I've heard of other untenured faculty who had to live on food stamps, but hopefully I won't have to do that. I may, however, have to sign up for Medicaid.

Right now I'm still waiting to hear back from those other schools that haven't rejected me. A lot of them just posted their ads in March and April and won't start reviewing applications until May, so I won't hear anything until June at the earliest. The uncertainty is the worst. I just want to know, one way or another, what's going to happen, so that I can figure out where to go from there.

What about you? Have you ever had difficulty finding a job in your desired field?